17. The Meal at Cunda’s
THE Master and his disciples stopped at Pava, in the garden of Cunda, the blacksmith. Cunda came and paid homage to the Master, and said to him:
“My Lord, do me the honor of taking your meal at my home, to-morrow.”
The Master accepted. The next day, Cunda had pork and other delicacies prepared for his guests. They arrived and took their seats. When the Master saw the pork, he pointed to it and said:
“No one but me could eat that, Cunda; you must keep it for me. My disciples will partake of the other delicacies.”
When he had eaten, he said:
“Bury deep in the ground what I have left untouched; the Buddha alone can eat of such meat.”
Then he left. The disciples followed.
They had gone only a short distance from Pava when the Master began to feel weary and sick. Ananda grieved, and he cursed Cunda, the blacksmith, for having offered the Master this fatal meal.
“Ananda,” said the Master, “do not be angry with Cunda, the blacksmith. Great rewards are reserved to him for the food he gave me. Of all the meals I have ever had, two are most deserving of praise: the one that Sujata, and the other that Cunda, the blacksmith, served to me.”
He overcame his weariness and presently he reached the banks of the Kakutstha. The river was peaceful and pure. The Master bathed in the limpid waters. After the bath, he drank, then went to a mango grove. There, he said to the monk Cundaka:
“Fold my cloak in four, that I may lie down and rest.”
Cundaka cheerfully obeyed. He quickly folded the cloak in four and spread it on the ground. The Master lay down, and Cundaka sat beside him.
The Master rested a few hours. Then he set out again, and he finally arrived at Kusinagara. There, on the banks of the Hiranyavati, stood a pleasant, peaceful little wood.
The Master said:
“Go, Ananda, and prepare a couch for me between two twin trees. Have the head to the north. I am ill, Ananda.”
Ananda prepared the couch, and the Master went and reclined on it.
18. The Buddha Enters Nirvana
IT was not the season for trees to bloom, yet the two trees that sheltered the Master were covered with blossoms. The flowers fell gently upon his couch, and from the sky, sweet melodies slowly drifted down.
The Master said to pious Ananda:
“See: it is not the season for flowers, yet these trees have bloomed, and the blossoms are raining down upon me. Listen: the air is joyous with the songs that the happy Gods are singing in the sky in honor of the Buddha. But the Buddha is paid a more enduring honor than this. Monks, nuns, believers, all those who see the truth, all those who live within the law, they are the ones that do the Buddha supreme honor. Therefore you must live according to the law, Ananda, and, even in the most trivial matters, you must follow the sacred path of truth.”
Ananda was weeping. He walked away, to hide his tears.
He thought, “For many misdeeds I have not yet been forgiven, and I shall be guilty of many more misdeeds. Oh, I am still far from the saintly goal, and he who took pity on me, the Master, is about to enter nirvana.”
The Master called him back and said:
“Do not grieve, Ananda, do not despair. Remember my words: from all that delights us, from all that we love, we must one day be separated. How can that which is born he other than inconstant and perishable? How can that which is born, how can that which is created, endure for ever? Long have you honored me, Ananda; you have been a devoted friend. Yours was a happy friendship, and you were faithful to it in thought, in word and in deed. You have done great good, Ananda; continue in the right path, and you will be forgiven your former misdeeds.”
Night came on. The inhabitants of Kusinagara had heard that the Master was reclining under two twin trees, and they came in great crowds to pay him homage. An aged hermit, Subhadra, appeared, and bowing before the Master, professed his belief in the Buddha, in the law and in the community; and Subhadra was the last of the faithful to have the joy of seeing the Master face to face.
The night was beautiful. Ananda was seated beside the Master. The Master said:
“Perhaps, Ananda, you will think, ‘We no longer have a Master.’ But you must not think that. The law remains, the law that I taught you; let it be your guide, Ananda, when I shall no longer be with you.
He said again:
“Verily, O monks, all that is created must perish. Never cease to struggle.”
He was no longer of this world. His face was of luminous gold. His spirit ascended to the realms of ecstasy. He entered nirvana. The earth shook, and thunder rolled across the sky.
Near the ramparts, at dawn, they of Kusinagara built a great funeral pile, as though for a king of the world, and there they burned the body of the Blessed One.
The Life of Buddha, by A. Ferdinand Herold, tr. by Paul C Blum , at sacred-texts.com